Eye on England 24-07-2011

How special is the special relationship? Name calling Black & White Freud fare Dress code Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY COLOUR QUESTION: Margaret Busby ARTIST'S MUSE: Lucian Freud's 1952 portrait of Henrietta Moraes
  • Published 24.07.11
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How special is the special relationship?

A happy 60th birthday today, July 24, 2011, to Nalin Surie, India’s outgoing high commissioner in London. A career diplomat who took up the post on September 18, 2009, Surie is returning home to Delhi after not even two years in the job since he has reached his retirement age.

Over farewell chai and samosa at India House last week, Surie told Indian journalists: “I go back home after more than 38 years in the Foreign Service.”

He has been India’s ambassador to Poland and China and was secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry in Delhi before coming to London.

“I go back with no regrets; I go back with my head held high,” he added, somewhat enigmatically. “And I go back with the confidence that this partnership and this relationship between India and the UK is destined for better things in the months and years ahead.”

David Cameron is currently preoccupied with issues of domestic corruption — just like Manmohan Singh. But a year ago, in pursuit of a “special relationship” with India, the British Prime Minister did take the trouble to visit Bangalore and Delhi, accompanied by several senior Cabinet colleagues, including the chancellor of the exchequer, the foreign secretary and the business secretary.

Among many journalists in London, there is the feeling that the Indian government in general and the external affairs ministry in particular could make more of an effort to nurture the relationship with Britain.

It is discourteous to the host nation if an Indian high commissioner cannot complete even a three-year term in London, as also happened with Surie’s predecessor, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, who lasted just over a year in the job.

The British are adding 33 more staff in India whereas in London, the Indian high commission could certainly do with some more senior diplomats to add to the good ones who are here.

“There is much more to be done in this relationship,” Surie acknowledged. “I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I have fulfilled most of the mandate given by the Prime Minister before I came to this country — you can’t do everything at the same time in two years’ time.”

True, but we have to make sure the next batsman in is not recalled to the pavilion before, at least, lunch.

Name calling

Mamata Banerjee should beware of changing West Bengal’s name to either “Banga” or “Bangla”, as has been reported.

At an international level, “Banga” will lead almost invariably to Mamata being ridiculed as a politician who presides over “Banga Banga” parties, in the manner of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (though, admittedly, his “bunga bunga” parties tended to involve nubile young girls such as “Ruby, the heart stealer”).

Does Mamata also want to become a global figure of fun?

I shouldn’t think so.

As for “Bangla”, it will cause confusion because it will be seen as an abbreviation for “Bangla-desh”.

In the popular imagination Bangladesh is considered an “international basket case”, still struggling with backwardness and poverty. This may be unfair to Bangladesh — in fact, it is unfair to Bangladesh — but does Mamata want to take the risk of being linked to a problem-ridden state?

Again, I don’t think so.

Before undertaking an unwise course of action, Mamata should reflect on a common sense British principle of life: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Black & White

My apologies to Margaret Busby, whom I wrongly described last week as an “Englishwoman”.

Margaret, one of those who attended the recent memorial for the author Mala Sen at the Nehru Centre in London, is, in fact, a Black woman. She had been Mala’s literary editor on Bandit Queen.

But my mistake does raise the question, “Can you be Black and English?”, in the way it has now become commonplace for many UK-born people to identify themselves as “Black British” (or “British Indian”).

The consensus seems to be may be one day, since British society, a real melting pot, is evolving, but not yet.

Margaret, who says she is one of the very few Black literary editors in the UK — she has long been campaigning for greater diversity in the field of publishing — confides: “I feel I am African — however long I have been here, I don’t feel I am English.”

She describes her origins: “I was born in Ghana, so was my mother and my mother’s mother. My father was born in the Caribbean — in Barbados — and grew up in Trinidad. He won the Island Scholarship and came to Britain to study medicine and then emigrated to Ghana in the 20s. And my mother’s father was also born in the Caribbean — in Dominica — and came to Britain to study law in 1899 — and emigrated to Ghana in 1902.”

Margaret went to school in Britain, then went back to Ghana, before returning permanently to the UK to read English at London University and co-founding her own publishing company. She confirms, Britain’s publishing world “is terribly white. I know of one other Black (literary) editor.”

Now chair of Wasafiri, a literary magazine devoted to “international contemporary writing”, Margaret explains: “In my school I did not read a single Black or non-English writer. I knew all about Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton. All I know about Black literature I learnt in my own time.”

She has a valid point when she argues: “It is important to make sure the publishing work force is diverse enough to reflect more than one view of what literature should be.”

Incidentally, Mala was not too distraught at being called “English”.

“I can hear Mala laughing about it,” she joked.

Freud fare

No nudes is bad news, as far as Lucian Freud was concerned.

The British painter, described variously as “Britain’s greatest contemporary artist” and a “colossus of the art world”, died last week at his London home, aged 88.

Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst, had a penchant for painting nude women, among them in recent years the models Kate Moss and Jerry Hall when they were pregnant.

But it is worth recalling one of his earliest muses was the Bohemian society girl Henrietta Moraes. Freud painted her on at least three occasions (13 fewer than Francis Bacon) and had an affair with her as is often the way with artists and their muses. But the affair came long before Henrietta seduced and married the Indian poet Dom Moraes in 1961.

Freud also painted the Queen, but regally attired complete with crown, one hastens to add.

Dress code

Even Lord’s, where the dress code for the Pavilion is strict (tie and jacket for men; no cleavage for women), realises Britain is multicultural and therefore permits “religious, traditional or national dress”.

But the banned list includes “Jodhpur-style trousers”, which are more associated with riding.

Tittle tattle

This is going to be a summer of bad puns. The handsomely (over)paid fitness experts employed by Team India have questions to answer on Zaheer Khan’s lack of battle readiness.

But the Daily Mail’s sports subs gloated over the Indian fast bowler’s absence: “Zaheer today... gone tomorrow?”